The jury has quite rightly been out on John Stewart since he was
appointed 18 months ago to engineer the revival of the troubled
National Australia Bank, says Elizabeth Knight in The SMH. Yesterday we received the first real evidence that, in Australia
and New Zealand, NAB is moving towards being a solid competitor in
the market again. NAB unveiled
the largest annual profit in Australian banking history: $4.13 billion – up by 30% on
the previous year and slightly ahead of market expectations – but conceded
that the coming year would present several hurdles to a repeat of the
performance, reports The Australian.

And there are so many unsynchronised moving parts to NAB’s result that it isn’t yet possible to gain a clear
picture of the bank’s position. The effort to rehabilitate the
once-dominant bank is still very much a work in progress, says Stephen Bartholomeusz in The Age. There were, however, some encouraging signs given the upheaval
the bank has been through – including a costly reshaping of
its portfolio and structure and a big overhaul of its management – and the increasingly competitive context in which it is
operating. NAB may have bottomed out, say John Durie in The Fin Review,
but full recovery is long way down the track. Stewart’s Australian boat
has plenty more distance to beat against the headwind before he can let
the spinnaker loose.

Investors are on notice to expect a spate of
new profit warnings from listed companies before the end of the year
after slackening domestic demand yesterday forced three market leaders – NAB, brewer Lion Nathan and building
materials company Rinker –
to foreshadow slowdowns in their core markets, reports The Australian.

The Smagereports that, just as Patrick Corp boss Chris Corrigan’s defence against Toll
Holdings’ $4.6 billion takeover offer appeared to crumble, rumours
surfaced yesterday that Linfox and Macquarie Bank were preparing a
rival $5.5 billion joint bid for the stevedore.

And Qantas is facing an uphill battle to stave off renewed efforts
from Singapore Airlines and Emirates to convince Canberra to open
up Australian skies, reports The Age. With a growing number of Coalition MPs backing the push to
expose Qantas to more competition – particularly on the
Sydney-Los Angeles route – Federal Government sources say
Transport Minister Warren Truss is supporting the push.

On Wall Street, US stocks closed well off their highs overnight,
after an unsteady session during which an attempt at a year-end rally
was undermined by news of the bombings in Jordan. The Dow Jones closed
up just 6.49 points at 10,546 – MarketWatch has a full report here.